Michael and I returned to New York City from Chile on March 18th, 2020. We had landed there two weeks prior to two Il Chiostro workshops (painting & photography) that were to begin with a group of 26 people. I have previously posted about how we watched from afar as the virus quickly spread across the Northeast USA. Santiago was as-yet untouched -- it felt like a dark cloud was heading our way, but the storm had not yet hit us. It still felt normal there, in the old-fashioned sense.
As if we were trapped in a surreal alternate reality bubble, we continued to wrestle with whether the arts programs could still go on somehow. What was so disconcerting to us was that our bigger daily concern had been the ongoing student street demonstrations that were semi-violent at times...
But, finally, we realized that even if we could get the participants to Santiago, we very well might not be able to get them home! After that, things began to implode very rapidly -- and then, the Chilean President threatened to close the borders. We got the last plane out...
...direct to JFK Airport. Upon arrival, there was NO health check, NO temperature-taking, NO questions asked at Customs about where we'd been! NOTHING AT ALL. We were truly shocked, and were no longer surprised at how this virus had infiltrated the USA in plain sight. The very same day we arrived, we decided to get the hell out of Dodge and escape to Bucks County. We got the last (only) bus out at 4PM that day. It was near-empty, if sparkling clean. Bus service was ended completely a few days later.
Four months later, we cautiously came back to New York for the first time since that strangely-rushed pass through. Most of our medical doctors are still in the City, and all of our appointments from earlier in the year had been cancelled.
I have to say I was not prepared emotionally for my first encounter with the City I grew up in. I had been girded somewhat by news reports and from some friends about the eerie quietness, the attempts by some struggling restaurants to create a degree of outdoor dining normalcy and other retail store unsteady baby steps.
One of my doctors is located on First Avenue and 32nd Street. I decided I needed to walk home (to West 73rd Street/CPW), to drink in and photograph a diverse and objective glimpse of the current New York City pulse on a sunny, hot summer day, July 16, 2020.
What struck me immediately was the palpable lack of energy on the streets. There were people everywhere (99% were thankfully masked outdoors), and there was a decent amount of street traffic. But something was missing. That people-watching edge was masked, literally; people were not making eye contact; even with masks, they were moving away, not pushing forward. There was an unsatisfying, forced business-as-usual attitude that rang hollow and false. There was a sense of a distinct complacent sadness in the air, sunshine be damned.
I was then taken aback at how few businesses had returned to a comfortable sense of normalcy. Starbucks was a completely reinvented get in/get out experience; restaurants have built various-sized outdoor cafe areas (many covered) in former on-street parking spaces. Most of these did not give me any socially-distant comfort levels. Times Square was a distressing midday ghost town, and walking by all the shuttered theaters, I looked inside only to see one familiar theater lobby after another collecting cobwebs, peeling signs on the windows stating expired dates for a hopeful Broadway reopening... Oh, and a totally empty TKTS Booth -- its electronic sign a blank slate -- heartbreaking.
After a bit of peripheral musing, I had to admit to myself that there were an unusual number of homeless folks on the streets. Then...of course! All the homeless shelters across Manhattan and beyond have been closed due to the virus. Everyone is on their own.
On an up note, I was deeply uplifted walking up Fifth Avenue to view the (very popular) Black Lives Matter monument situated right in front of Trump Tower -- a forever bitch slap to our racist regime. May it keep him and his spawn away from New York City for evermore!
I so want to believe New York City will be back to as close to 'The Old Normal' as is possible. However, with the disgraceful lack of any national strategy, hence the virus spinning wildly out of control in other areas across our country, I fear NYC may not be out of the danger zone indefinitely. Rather, it runs a high risk of being dragged back into the fray by a regime that wants a healthy economy at the expense of safeguarding children and maintaining the health of American citizens...
I started this blog as a way to better document my travel photography adventures. This particular trip back home to Manhattan was so emotionally jarring because it felt like I was visiting a new, far less familiar place! New York City was not exactly what I had in mind to explore and rediscover four months ago.
In any case, here are a few more photographic documents of New York City in July, 2020, in The Year of Our Covid.
Stay safe, healthy, and, remain hopeful!
I'm born and bred in New York City but have a cool log home to escape to in Upper Black Eddy, PA.